St Ali, South Melbourne

St AliThere’s very few things that can draw you in like a smell. The scent of cooking onions on the barbecue; fresh bread from the oven; or in this case the sweet smell of coffee roasting wafting out over Clarendon St. That smell marks the beginning of the end. The end of the Aching Head, the end of the nausea and the best way to start the morning after.

You see, coffee is right up there at the top of the list of the best hangover cures (2nd in fact, just after the hair of the dog) and that smell comes from one of the best coffee houses in Melbourne. It isn’t just crazy South Melbourne colloquialism it really is. St Ali has been leading the specialty coffee charge for years and though the recent crop of coffee shops are raising the bar St Ali still holds it’s own. The consistency of the coffee they serve each day is unparalleled even in the face of massive take-away lines and packed dining toom.

Short Black, St AliThey are also leading the charge with their use of the Internet and social media, their blog, website and Twitter accounts are great examples of how a cafe can be a part of the online community, but still maintain their own voice.

To some extent St Ali is exporting their innovation elsewhere. St Ali at Home, Atlis (their dinner restaurant), Sensory Lab, Outpost and the recent laneway festival are all initiatives that you don’t notice when you drop in for a latte, but each of these is at the edge of coffee revolution. Even so, the cafe seems to have lost the anxious feeling of trying an exciting new bean or blend that you get elsewhere. Yet, St Ali keeps on keeping on. The range of coffee available is limited to one single origin on siphon, one single origin on espresso and the underrated St Ali espresso blend.

All the single origin espresso is made through the handmade creation known as Slayer. That may sound like a nickname – it isn’t. It’s the handmade, artisanal espresso machine from Seattle that helps create some of the nicest, freshest espresso you are likely to taste. Normally the single-origin coffee of the day is the only coffee made through the slayer, but if you are interested and if it isn’t too busy the barista will probably pull you a regular espresso shot through it. It is certainly worth the trouble to ask, even for educational purposes.

While the coffee may be on a plateau of sorts, the food is going from strength to strength. Having recently started serving dinner with their latest concept “Atlis” it would be easy to think the quality of the day shift may falter. But the food still maintains the unique style of chef Ben Cooper, the lite cafe-style food is accentuated with syrups and reductions. It is an approach that doesn’t take away from the easygoing nature of the establishment, but sets the food apart from the rank and file.

Unfortunately St Ali is my regular coffee shop and I don’t seem to have as many photos as I thought, but I’ve got a few and the menu changes reasonably regularly.

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I really wish I could remember what the rest of this dish was. It was scrambled eggs and avocado served with the most amazing molasses based syrup. The sharp zing of that syrup had me licking my plate.

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This is “My Mexican Cousin”, grilled Haloumi, poached eggs on a fried corn fritter. The poached eggs self sauce the corn fritter and the wonderful saltiness of the Haloumi tops it off perfectly.

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104 Responses to “St Ali, South Melbourne”

  1. Amiriche commented:

    They’ve opened another place, Seven Seeds, near Melb Uni. At least I’ve been told it is owned by the same crew and it does have the same vibe and similar coffee lab set up. Either way both are very cool places.

  2. Michael commented:

    Thanks for the comment!

    They are quite similar and they both have the same focus on 3rd Wave Coffee but Seven Seeds isn’t the same people as St Ali. St Ali has Outpost in South Yarra, Liar Liar in Hawthorn and Sensory Lab in the City. Seven Seeds and Brother Baba Budan are the same people. It’s worth checking out Proud Mary and Dead Man Espresso if you are interested in checking out more awesome coffee places.

  3. penny aka jeroxie commented:

    I do love the mexican feast. had the same one on my blog… hahaa~ it is one of those that stays on the menu and I am happy for them to do that. and happier that they are less than a block away from me

  4. Michael commented:

    Hey Penny,

    I think we were talking about my Mexican Cousin when we had lunch the other day. It certainly is pretty tastey.

  5. Lisa commented:

    Was great to meet you at the conference yesterday! I can’t believe I had to leave before trying out the infamaous Slayer-produced coffee though!!

  6. jim commented:

    IMO: st ali = more about ego and $ than coffee! trying to latch onto everything thing they can to be “cool” rather than focus on coffee and people. lotsah hype, manufactured – not genuine. sorry guys. the stunt with the aerosol art was wack – gimmicky. hope the charity did benefit though +++

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